@ColoradoStateU, biotech company partnering on RNA-based method for weed control

Wheat. Photo credit: Colorado State University

Click the link to read the release on the Colorado State University website (Anne Manning):

For generations, farmers have relied on the spraying of herbicides to prevent invasive plants and weeds from choking their soybean, corn and wheat crops. But over the last several years, this tried-and-true system has been faltering.

Weeds are quickly evolving resistance to even the most advanced herbicides, including glyphosate – better known as Roundup – which was first introduced to farmers in the 1970s by agrochemical giant Monsanto. Herbicide-resistant weeds have brought farmers to their knees, desperate for solutions for protecting their crops.

Todd Gaines, an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural Biology, is one of weeds’ worst enemies. His expertise is in the molecular and genetic underpinnings of the most highly evolved superweeds of the world, with the goal of helping farmers target these foes with new, genetically precise and sustainable methods.

Palmer Amaranth in the Field. Photo credit: United Soybean Board

Gaines is now leading a project aimed at changing the game of weed control by using an entirely new mode of action to combat the most out-of-control weed species, king among them, a noxious, highly herbicide-resistant weed called Palmer amaranth.

Biotech company partnership

Gaines is partnering with biotechnology company AUM LifeTech to research the application and methods of an emerging gene-silencing weed control technology. Their method uses molecular tools called antisense oligonucleotides, which are next-generation single-stranded nucleic acid molecules, to infiltrate the cells of weed plants and target single strands of RNA. The molecular targets would be so specific that the crops would remain untouched.

Their goal is to optimize a delivery system in the form of a nanoparticle-based, shelf-stable spray. If they’re successful, their technology would give farmers a non-genetically modified, environmentally conscious tool to control weeds that are rapidly gaining the upper hand against legacy herbicides.

“This is the most exciting thing I have ever worked on in terms of promise,” Gaines said. “If we can solve this problem, this will be something every single person out there managing weeds will be affected by.”

He added that among his larger goals is to help make farming systems more sustainable, both by helping farmers maintain their livelihoods, and by making products that are safe for the public and the environment. “We need to help ensure we are not harming other organisms, while also managing these weeds.”

DARPA funding

Gaines and collaborator Veenu Aishwarya, founder and Chief Executive Officer of AUM LifeTech, are funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for their two-year project, in which they will prove out the fundamental technology and test a delivery system.

Their system will focus on Palmer amaranth as a test case, a hardy and aggressive pigweed that exhibits extensive herbicide resistance and is a growing problem for commodity farmers. Its genome has been sequenced thanks in part to an international weed genomics consortium that Gaines also leads.

Antisense oligonucleotide technology is better known in life science applications because of its promise as a targeted therapeutic device for a host of diseases, including neurological and autoimmune disorders. But Aishwarya has long seen the potential for these single-stranded DNA molecules to be useful in agricultural settings, and he wants to expand his company in that direction.

“Since our gene silencing products use a non-GMO and non-permanent approach, this makes this technology very attractive for such applications,” said Aishwarya in a press release announcing the partnership.

A chance encounter with Gaines at an agricultural biotechnology conference several years ago paved the way for the partnership; now, AUM LifeTech’s proprietary gene silencing technology will form the basis of the RNA-targeting system he and Gaines will develop and test together.

“Todd’s work in collaboration with AUM LifeTech in RNA targeting to develop next-generation herbicides is an exciting example of CSU’s leadership in life science breakthroughs for agricultural applications,” said Alan Rudolph, vice president for research and a former program manager at DARPA. “The awarding of DARPA funds to address the intractable problem of herbicide resistance speaks to the extraordinary work of Todd and his team in developing new, molecular strategies to combat the worst effects of invasive plant species on our food supply.”

February capped off a warm, dry winter for U.S.: #Drought conditions intensified across the nation — NOAA

Smoke over Twin Lakes in Mono County, California, on January 24, 2022. Meteorological winter (December through February) was quite warm and dry across the U.S. as drought expanded across the parts of the West in February 2022, including California. (U.S. Forest Service)

Click the link to read the article on the NOAA website:

February continued 2022’s relatively dry start, with the majority of the contiguous U.S. in drought. The end of the month also ushered in the end of meteorological winter, which ranked as the nation’s 12th-driest winter in 128 years.

Here are more highlights from NOAA’s latest monthly U.S. climate report:

Climate by the numbers

February 2022

The average temperature across the contiguous U.S. last month was 33.8 degrees F, 0.1 of a degree F below the 20th-century average, ranking in the middle third of the climate record.

Below-average temperatures were felt across portions of the northern Plains, Great Lakes and from the central Rockies to the Gulf Coast. Temperatures were above average across portions of the West Coast as well as from the Southeastern U.S. to New England.

February’s average precipitation was 1.73 inches (0.40 of an inch below average), which ranked in the driest third of the historical climate record.

Above-average precipitation fell from the Mid-Mississippi Valley to New England, with Ohio seeing its sixth-wettest February on record. Precipitation was below average across most of the West and portions of the Plains, Southeast and Mid-Atlantic. California and Nebraska had their second-driest Februarys on record, while Nevada had its third driest.

Meteorological winter (December through February)

Meteorological winter was quite mild and dry across the contiguous U.S. The average temperature was 34.8 degrees F, 2.5 degrees above average, ranking in the warmest third of the winter record. Georgia and South Carolina saw their seventh-warmest winters on record, and no states ranked below average in warmth for the winter season.

Total winter precipitation was 5.76 inches — 1.03 inches below average — which ranks as the 12th-driest winter on record. Louisiana had its third-driest winter on record, Nebraska had its fourth driest and Kansas saw its fifth driest. Meanwhile, Minnesota had its 10th-wettest winter.

A map of the United States plotted with significant climate events that occurred during February 2022.

Other notable climate events

US Drought Monitor map March 1, 2022.

Drought tightened its grip: By the end of February, 59.2% of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, up nearly 4% from the beginning of February. Drought conditions expanded or intensified across portions of the northern and central Plains, as well as across parts of the West, Midwest, Great Lakes and from Florida to the Carolina coast. Drought severity lessened across portions of the southern Plains and across Puerto Rico.

A winter storm walloped many: A massive winter storm stretched from Texas to Maine during the first week of February and brought heavy snow, freezing rain, ice and bitterly cold temperatures to much of the eastern two-thirds of the contiguous U.S. More than a foot of snow fell across parts of the Northeast. Fallen power lines and trees caused power outages across many states, and thousands of flights were canceled amid treacherous travel conditions.

A record wet February and winter for Alaska: Alaska saw its wettest February in its 98-year period of record. Looking at some cities in the state, Juneau had its wettest February, following a record-wet January. King Salmon also saw its wettest February on record, while Anchorage ranked second wettest. February contributed to Alaska also seeing its wettest winter on record, eclipsing the previous wettest winter of 1928-29.

The March 1, 2022 #Colorado #Water Supply Outlook Report is hot off the presses from @NRCS_CO

Click the link to read the report on the Colorado Snow Survey website. Here’s the summary:

Near Normal #Snowpack Across #Colorado, But Low February Precipitation — @NRCS_CO

Click the link to read the release on the NRCS Colorado website (Brian Domonkos):

Largely due to the storms from late December, mountain snowpack and water year-to-date precipitation across major Colorado river basins remain near-normal (median). Currently, Colorado statewide snowpack is 96 percent of normal, ranging from a low of 86 percent in the Yampa-White-Little Snake to a high of 109 percent of normal in the Gunnison river basin. However, along with January, February precipitation for much of Colorado was far below normal. For example, the Colorado Headwaters has 95 percent of normal snowpack, but February precipitation was 63 percent of normal. Similar trends are seen in most of the central and northern basins. The southern basins in the state fared better with more February precipitation. It is important to note that percent of normal values have been updated from the 1980-2010 period to 1990-2020. More information about the normal updates can be found here.

Statewide reservoir storage is 75 percent of median. Currently, southwest Colorado has the lowest reservoir storage in the state with 61 percent of normal in the Gunnison and 64 percent in the combined San Miguel-Dolores-Animas-San Juan river basins. The highest reservoir storage is in the South Platte at 108 percent of normal. While not in the state of Colorado, it is worth noting the existing historic low conditions of Lake Meade and Powell which inevitably affect water resources and decisions for much of the Colorado river basin.

“While the snowpack remains near normal, it’s important to consider the antecedent conditions heading into this winter”, remarks Cole Greensmith, Hydrologist for the Colorado Snow Survey. Greensmith explains, “Several years of low summer precipitation, high summer temperatures combined with dry soils, suggest lower streamflow forecasts despite snowpack levels.” Current statewide streamflow projections are 88 percent of normal. The decline in streamflow forecast volumes is representative of lower precipitation levels in January and February combined with the long-term drought conditions. Historically, March is the snowiest month for Colorado, which we need to bolster the snowpack. If precipitation amounts do not increase in March through the rest of winter, we could be facing a truncated and below average streamflow runoff season this spring and summer.

2022 #COleg: Filling in #Colorado’s decarbonization gaps — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate

Denver smog. Photo credit: NOAA

Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

Legislators are considering how to nudge emissions from buildings, clean up Front Range air, and bring agriculture into the decarbonization effort

Conventional wisdom holds that politicians shy away from major initiatives in election years. Some think that is at play in Colorado this year. After all, inflation is at work, energy prices are rising, and analysts predict a rough election year for Democrats in Congress.

But if Colorado’s 2022 climate and energy legislative agenda certainly won’t match that of 2019, nor of 2021, it’s shaping up as an impressive year to advance the work on achieving economy-wide decarbonization goals of 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

“This is probably not going to be a session filled with transformation legislation on climate change as 2019 and 2021 were, but there are some really good bills,” says Jacob Smith executive director of Colorado Communities for Climate Action, a coalition of 40 local governments.

An all-electric house. Credit: REWIRING AMERICA

Legislators are considering bills that seek to advance Colorado’s efforts to reduce emissions associated with buildings, clean up the crappy air quality along the northern Front Range, and bring the agriculture sector into the decarbonization effort.

Courtesy of Microgrid Knowledge

Others address microgrids, the potential for carbon storage, and funding for the state’s Office of Just Transition, the agency crafted in 2019 for coal communities and workers to reinvent themselves.

Legislators in 2019 adopted a remarkable set of bills that essentially pivoted Colorado’s energy system in a way that had never been done. Most prominent were the economy wide decarbonization goals.

Only 2004, when Colorado voters adopted the first renewable energy portfolio standard, comes close to the same pivot in energy.

The 2019 tsunami was made possible by heightened worries about climate change but also a shift in the Colorado Senate that gave Democrats majorities in both chambers. This came concurrently with the arrival of Jared Polis as governor after his campaign on a platform of 100% renewable electricity by 2040.

Then came 2020—and the covid shutdown, followed by the flood of even more powerful bills in 2021, including several that targeted methane from extraction to end-use in buildings. At least one of the ideas adopted in 2021 had been first proposed in 2007 but never got close to the finish line.

Now is catch-up time, a filling in of the gaps.

“Last year we essentially had two legislative sessions in one, and we accomplished a lot, and now we need to work on the implementation of it,” says Mike Kruger, chief executive of Colorado Solar and Storage AssociationThat won’t require as much legislation,” he points out. “That’s more regulatory work.”

Still, even as they waited the governor’s signature on many of the 30-plus bills that had been passed, state legislators indicated they knew there was still major work ahead. State Sen. Steve Feinberg, then the majority leader (and now the Senate president), said a major priority in the 2022 session would be legislation to improve air quality along the Front Range. Sen. Chris Hansen said he was thinking about how to integrate agriculture into Colorado’s decarbonization.

In September, Hansen revealed at a fundraiser that he intended to introduce legislation that would set interim decarbonization targets for Colorado. Those new targets—for 2028 and for 2040—are intended to create a steady trajectory for Colorado’s decarbonization efforts, to avoid the tendency to punt the decarbonization can down the road until a last-night cram session before the test.

When did Hansen decide this was needed?

“I think it was part of what I do essentially every summer and fall, which is really try to think about the important gaps, where they are and which ones, if you were to address them, you’d get the most bang for the buck when it comes to decarbonization,” said Hansen in an interview.

“So I’m always trying to think about that supply curve, of carbon abatement opportunities, let’s do the cheapest, easiest ones as fast as we can. And that is really kind of driving my policy development process.”

Meanwhile, in Boulder, State Rep. Edie Hooton was thinking about microgrids, and in Longmont, Rep. Tracey Bernett was thinking about both air quality and buildings.

This week, the bills having to do with buildings.

See: Colorado’s carrots and sticks for buildings

Next week, air quality, agriculture and other bills.